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Backpocket Brewing – Coralville

First of all, please forgive my horrible camera phone pictures.  I don’t have the latest greatest phone, and I didn’t want to drag my canon with me because, well frankly, because I have to lug a ton of stuff with me wherever I go, whenever I go anywhere.  That happens with two kids.  That and I think I may have broken or fractured my toe.  So there you have it.

Anyway, thanks to Nana Sally and Papa Tom (my Godparents and Aunt and Uncle) Andrew and I had a date night.  Not just any date night mind you, this has been planned for a year.  We attended the soft opening of the new brewery lastnight, the night before the full opening tonight.  The building isn’t finished yet, but it’s going to be stunning when it’s done.  The restaurant side is pretty much done but they’re still working on the brewery.

Andrew of course, belongs to the mug club, which entitles him to a 24 ounce hand crafted stoneware mug with his own number on it and $3 draft beers (instead of $4) that which he gets to keep at the end of the year.  They are offering up 120 more mugs, on a first come first serve basis.  (See their facebook page for more information) Which I WILL HAVE.

Backpocket is a 100% Iowa crafted, German inspired, craft brewing enterprise.  They’re not new to this gig.  Though Backpocket is located in the Iowa River Landing district in Coralville, it grew out of Old Man River Restaurant and Brewery out of McGregor, Iowa.  The demand for their German Style beers quickly outgrew the capacity they had at McGregor, so they landed a prime real estate spot in Coralville, with the 15,000 square foot brewery.  Which, according to Business380.com, makes it the largest brewery in Iowa.  Pretty cool, huh?

At the soft opening, Backpocket staff greeted us at the door, of course, to scan our tickets (I felt a little bit like a VIP! – really, we just were lucky to get one of the 300 tickets in the 4 minutes it took them to sell out – but still…)  We seated ourselves, reviewed the beer and pizza menu (more on that later!) and of course, ordered a sampler.

The sampler came with the 5 beers they have on tap.  There were also other craft beers available, but we stuck with Backpocket this time. 

THE BEERS

Golden Coin – Helles

Helles is a German Blond Lager, very drinkable, smooth, light on the hops, kind of sweet.  One of those “makes me very happy after spending all day in the sun doing manual labor” kind of beers.  I don’t have the stats, but here’s the hops and malts used via their website.  As they say, it has a very light “hop nose” and “little to no upfront bitterness.”

Malts – Pilsner, Caramel light, Carapils

Hops – Hallertau Mittelfruh and Traditional

5.2% alcohol by volume

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Penny Whistle – Weizen

Penny Whistle is a Bavarian Wheat Beer with a little more hop nose than the Helles.  Still, very drinkable, a little heavier than the Gold Coin, but full of flavor.

5.5% alcohol by volume

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Slingshot – Dunkel

A very popular Dunkel or German Dark Lager, Slingshot was yumm-o.  I made notes that it had a slight coffee flavor (so of course I would like it) but it wasn’t bitter and definitely not hoppy.  I would say toasted and malty – making it slightly sweet on the tongue after the coffee flavor.  Another slightly heavier beer than the wheats, (nothing close to a stout or a porter – Dunkels color is dark, but they’re still relatively light) but still refreshing and full of complex flavors.  Really a lovely beer.

Malts – Pilsner, Carmel Light, Carmel Dark, Munich, Chocolate

Hops – Hallertau Mittelfruh, Perle

5.3% alcohol by volume

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Wooden Nickel – Scottish “Peated” Lager (or Ale)

Ahhhh Andrew and I do love a good Scottish Ale.  As a matter of fact, our favorite homebrew so far has been the Scottish Ales.  My notes for this beer simply said YUM!  Peated means that the malt is smoked over burning peat to create a darker flavor characteristic and smoky aroma of an Islay or sometimes Irish whiskey.  I liked Backpocket’s description of it’s beer…so here…

“So, a German, a Scott and an Iowan walk into a Bar and… an entirely unique beer was invented. Traditional German yeast, hops and techniques, paired with the smoky flavor from Scottish malts, all somehow born in Iowa.”

5.7% alcohol by volume

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Jack Knife – GPA

Jack Knife is more hoppy than the other beers.  not my favorite, because my palate just does not enjoy a hoppy beer.  My husband, however, loves hoppy beers.  Their highest alcohol volume beer at 6.2%, is a unique blend of German and American Hops.  And as far as the hop nose, this one isn’t quite the IPA hop of say, Peace Tree’s Hop Wrangler or even more their Hop Sutra, but it’s still quite hoppy.  Jack Knife is a GPA which is simply “German Pale Ale.”  Great for someone who wants to train their palate to truly enjoy the hoppy side of beers.  Again, I’ll leave it to Backpocket to describe this one.

“When it came to creating a unique take on an IPA, one countries hops wasn’t going to cut it. German hops for a smooth bitterness, American hops for perfect aroma and the result – a “GPA” that would make any IPA want to change its name.”

6.2% alcohol by volume

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Root Beer

Backpocket also, like many craft brewers, went the way of the tree’s favorite drink, Root Beer.  Also a great option for kids.  We didn’t try it though, we kind of forgot.

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THE FOOD

So, enough about the beer.  The beer was fantastic.  As a matter of fact, we’re kind of craving it right now.  But I must tell you about the pizza.  Like Lincoln Wine Bar in Mount Vernon, Backpocket invested in a beautiful Italian style pizza oven that tuns out pizza in about 90 seconds.  Yes, I said 90 seconds.  (COOL!)  I don’t have any info on the oven at Backpocket, but it looked a little more new-age than the oven at Lincoln Wine Bar, but it turned out some fantastic pizza just the same.  Beautifully crispy crust that held it’s shape from plate to mouth.  With simple and few ingredients, each pie that we had was full of flavor and worked perfect with the beer.

The pizzas offered lastnight at the soft opening were:

BBQ – BBQ sauce, chicken, spring onions, provolone cheese, and cilantro garnish

Margherita – Basil, fresh mozzarella, tomato

Produce Pie – Tomato, mushroom, spinach, kalamata garnish

Solid Combo – Sausage, roasted pepper, red onion

Meatza – Bacon, pepperoni, sausage

Each 10″ personal pizza is adorned with either a white or red sauce, and fresh ingredients, carefully placed so you get a little of everything in each slice.  The crust wasn’t quite as chewy (less gluten in the flour most likely) as the Lincoln Wine Bar’s pizza crust, but it had a wonderful flavor and texture.  The pizza was as unique as the beer itself.

We will most definitely be going back frequently, so I’ll post as I learn more.  I will also try to get a little more history about the brewmaster himself, when it’s not so crazy busy for him.  Or at least, when he might have a minute to stop and breathe.  According to my husband, he started out as a microbiologist or some kind of super smart scientist type who followed his passion of brewing beer.  Which in and of itself, is pretty damn cool.

So.  See you there?

Lincoln Wine Bar – Mount Vernon, Iowa

Now that I have your attention…let me tell you a bit about the Lincoln Wine Bar.  The Lincoln Wine Bar was opened in 2003 by another family, and reclaimed and re-opened by Matt Steigerwald in 2006.    Then closed again on New Years Eve for renovations.  The Wine Bar is new again as of the week of the 20th of February 2012, with a facelift, double the space, and pizza made in a brand new, hand-made in Italy, Brick Wood Fire Oven.

“The oven was hand-built in Naples, Italy by Stefano Ferrara to our specs. It’s a wood oven, 6000 pounds, and cooks a pizza in 90 seconds at about 900 degrees.  It’s kind of the Rolls Royce of wood ovens and we love it.” 

He’s right, it’s a beautiful oven and turns out some mighty fine pies.  Matt also gets his flour out of Naples, Italy.  Caputo 00, is said to be the best flour for pizza making.   You might wonder why that is.  Flours from Italy (and Europe in general) are much different from the flour we use here in the states.  For one thing, the gluten content varies greatly in different flours and from different regions.  The flour Matt uses in his pizza crust is specific to pizza making and contains a high gluten content of about 11% to 12%.  It’s that high gluten content that gives the crust it’s delightful “chew” without being tough.  That tenderness also has to do with how much the dough is worked.  And that’s surely not to be overlooked in this kitchen.  These folks know what they’re doing.

FOOD

The restaurant offers four permanent pizzas, and offers two to three specialty pizzas daily – posted on the board.  Andrew and I had two pizzas, because, well, we had to try more than just one (for the sake of the blog, you know.)  Andrew ordered a sausage (homemade sausage from their other restaurant down the street, The Lincoln Cafe) and I ordered a Margherita pizza.  Both were adorned with a homemade tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella.  This is the kind of pizza that you finish there.  Don’t be demure, be bold.  Have a beer, loosen your pants, and eat the whole thing.  This isn’t the type of pizza that stuffs you full to the gills with two pieces, and it doesn’t keep well in the fridge (though it’s still good the day after – just a bit soggy.)   The crust was bubbly and chewy (due to the high gluten content – and I’m guessing it also helps it cook quickly in the wood fire oven, just like in Italy.)  The ingredients were fresh and flavorful.  Both pizzas were delicious.  Both were reasonably priced, mine was $12 Andrew’s $15.  Which you might think high-priced for a pizza, but both were 12 inches, and when you consider that you’re getting a–100% hand-made in front of you with fresh ingredients fired in an imported brick oven–the price is reasonable.  There were two specials on the board (always look at the board) for little over $16.  I’m willing to pay that price for good real whole food.

WINE AND BEER

The wine list was great, though I was disappointed that there were no Iowa wines, and that the wine list is rather pricey.  Good, but pricey.  Available wines are typically from the West Coast of the US, Europe, Australia, or Argentina.  Matt personally chooses the wines sold at the wine bar.

 “Basically I’m the sommelier at the bar. No special certificate.  Wines just need to taste great to get on our list.”  

I didn’t look much at the wine list but I noticed the least expensive wine was around $27 per bottle and I saw one for over $80 per bottle.  I have no doubt these are exceptional wines, and for our little date night that was more than we wanted to or planned to spend.

Andrew and I chose the less expensive option of beer, for a couple of reasons.  We found the selection fresh and well, exciting.  As silly as that may sound.  But we also really enjoy beer.   My husband brews his own, so we like to experiment and try different infusions.  On the beer list we found brews from all over Europe, the States, Canada, Japan, and two from Iowa – Millstream and one of our favorites, Peace Tree. I enjoyed thoroughly the Hitachino Sweet Stout from Japan.  Andrew had a Peace Tree Hop Wrangler, which was too hoppy for me, but he enjoyed it-a lot.  The wine and beer lists change so if you find something you like, write it down.

EXPERIENCE

Overall the experience was good, except that we stood outside for almost 10 minutes in the cold before they opened the doors.  Granted, we were there early, but my good ol’ Iowa hospitality bristled a little at that.  But once we got in the door, we were greeted with friendly wait and host staff and served very quickly.  I will say, if you do go, I would suggest you go early.  It really started to pick up at about 6 pm.  Matt was gracious in answering my questions, and welcomed photos.

OVERALL COST  $$$ (out of $$$$$)

OVERALL EXPERIENCE  🙂 🙂 🙂  (out of 5 🙂  )

 

PLEASE SEE THE NEW EAT LOCAL IOWA PAGE TO FIND OUT WHAT THOSE SILLY SYMBOLS MEAN

More infomation about the Lincoln Wine Bar can be found on their website:  http://www.foodisimportant.com

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Brrr Fest Coralville, Iowa

Who knew Coralville, a small but mighty town near Iowa City, would host 1800 people to drink beer? So we’re calling this a Drink Local Iowa blog post. Coralville hosts several events a year including 4th Fest, Winterfest, A Local Farmers Market (hey, we all know these Farmers Markets can get OUT-OF-CONTROL,) Music in The Park, and several other great activities that keep the town of Coralville’s residents hoppin’ (uh, no pun intended).

Coralville’s first Winter Beer Celebration was held on Saturday January 28 2012 at the beautiful new Coralville Marriott and Conference Center Exhibit Hall. From 11-1, you could go on an exclusive hard-hat tour of the new (to Coralville) local brewery, Back Pocket, also in the newly renovated Iowa River Landing District. Though it was a bit chilly, the wait was short, the sun was out, and we walked into a huge building with heat. So it all worked out. Backpocket is not new to brewing. In fact, Back Pocket currently operates it’s German-Style beer (or should I say bier) brewing operation at Old Man River Restaurant & Brewery in McGregor. The new building is a whopping 15,000 square feet, with an option to double that space if needed. My guess is they’re going to need it.

There were forty-one microbrewers at Brrr Fest, twenty of them from Iowa. Everything from small (but popular) breweries like Sutliff Cider (which was technically classified as a mix between a beer and a champagne or wine-so what the heck, let’s call it a beer for now) to well known breweries like Rock Bottom.

How we Landed at the Brrr Fest

My husband has a micro-micro-micro brewing operation out of our basement that is meant for our own enjoyment and we’ve become sort of beer snobs. The likes of Busch Light never see the light of our refrigerator. In fact, one corner of our fridge is dedicated to those beautiful amber bottles with fun lables – or no labels. I’ve grown to enjoy less hoppy and more intense beers like stouts and bocks. My husband likes more hoppy varieties like American Pale Ales and Reds. So that is what we tasted. Time was limited, and our livers could only work so fast, so we tried what we liked in moderation. But you can read more about our beer adventures on My Husband’s Homebrew. So naturally, my husband couldn’t resist the temptation to attend (he would get TWO glasses if we both got tasting tickets…) and was looking forward to the hard hat tour of Back Pocket.

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On With The Tasting

I am only going to list my top three, because you can’t sit here all day and read about every one that I tasted. And I tried to stick with tasting from Iowa Breweries, though there were breweries from all over the midwest. Microbrew crews traveled from Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and of course came from all parts of Iowa.

Peace Tree Brewing

ImageIn my opinion, the star of the show, the belle of the ball, the bon vivant was Peace Tree Brewing Company out of Knoxville. Don’t get me wrong, there were a LOT of beers that were wonderful by other brewers, and some that I even liked a little better. But the fun and fresh merchantry of Peace Tree’s uber hip staff (not to mention the cocoa-nator…yeah, you read that right…) made Peace Tree one of the breweries with the longest lines and happiest tasters. Not only are they interesting and fun and hip, they know their beer and they know how to sell it. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to try new things. As I bumbled my way to the front, I saw it. The cocoa infuser dubbed the cocoa-nator. I’m not exactly sure how they spell it, because frankly I was more interested in the process of infusing beer and chocolate. Brilliant!

The Black River Gumbo Stout was wonderfully chocolaty and smooth with a slight but pleasant aftertaste. The complex flavor created by six different malts and three varieties of hops made the stout interesting and full bodied. This is a beer to drink with a big steak, a slice of dark chocolate, or to add into a hearty stew. The Blonde Fatale, a Belgian style unfiltered blond ale with light hops and light but full flavor and high ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of 8.5% (most beers are 4-6% ABV.) was also very tasty and is one I will definitely look for this summer.

We didn’t spend a lot of time here, because we’ve tried many of their beers they had at the fest already, and the lines were long and getting longer. So we tried a couple we hadn’t and bought some merch. Which you can also do on their website. I did wait to stroke the brewmaster’s beard for $1 (I’ll do just about anything for this blog) but alas we ran out of time, and he was quite busy.

Raccoon River Brewing Company

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David Coy Brewmaster Raccoon River Brewing Company

Raccoon River Brewing Company out of Des Moines takes a more culinary approach to brewing with interesting combinations, food pairings, and the beer equivalent of a brew rainbow with brews ranging from a “tall grass” light to a flavorful vanilla ale to the more heavy dark stone crusher stouts. Another brewery with long lines and hoppy tasters, (har har) Raccoon River had everything from a whisky barrel aged stout to a very popular (and favorite of this gal) vanilla cream ale. At first, I tried the Stone Crusher Imperial Stout, which was complex and full bodied with a pleasant aftertaste. Andrew tried the Vanilla Cream Ale, which he didn’t care for (but he doesn’t like sweet flavored beers) but I loved. It was a cross between a light beer and a cream soda. Next up was the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout. This stout was similar in flavor to the original Imperial Stout, but being aged in Templeton Rye oak barrels added an interesting (but wonderful) whisky flavor to the background of the smoky foreground of the stout. This beer packs a punch at a whopping 12.5% APV. The type of beer to savor with a nice hearty meal. Then the brewmaster, David Coy, suggested I step aside and he would let me try their “Black and Tan,” a combination of the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout and the Vanilla Cream Ale. WOW! What a combination! The mellow sweet flavor of the Vanilla Cream Ale cut the more heavy flavor of the Barrel Aged Stone Crusher Imperial Stout, making it very easy to drink. Raccoon River will be on my list of places to stop the next time we go to Des Moines.

Keg Creek Brewing Company

Keg Creek Brewing C ompany @ Brrr Fest

Keg Creek Brewing Company from Glenwood had probably my favorite stout of the event. The Sharp Street Stout. Andrew decided to try the Keg Creek IPA, which he noted on his sheet as “good IPA” which is a high compliment coming from “the man of few words.” Keg Creek Brewing Company seems to be a smaller, but up and coming local microbrewery with a ton of talent and potential. The people working the event were very friendly, knowledgeable, and beer-focused showing a definite love for their craft. At the event, this brewery had a very local, unpretentious, very comfortable, but very knowledgeable well-crafted feel. According to their website, the brewery hosts many events in their taproom, including everything from book signings to tastings featuring other microbreweries. Keg Creek prides itself on their “history as home brewers” and their love of the process, experimentation, and education. Which may be part of why I enjoyed their booth. Keg Creek offers four regular brews, with seasonal or specialty brews on occasion. Wabash Wheat, Breakdown Brown Ale, Keg Creek IPA, and Sharp Street Stout. They also featured a specialty batch of Black Lager that I didn’t get to taste, but wish I would have. The Sharp Street Stout was an outstanding stout with a strong coffee/cocoa flavor but not over powering and very smooth. As a fan of both coffee and chocolate, this immediately made it’s way into my palate memory. Their motto that day was “don’t be afraid of the dark” and they were right. The Keg Creek IPA was a hoppy American IPA (or more appropriate, APA) that was less hoppy than an India Pale Ale but more hoppy than some of the other APA’s I’ve tried. It was darker than most Pale Ales and had a good sweet (caramel) flavor, with little aftertaste. Even though this was a fairly bold APA, it is good for the intermediate beer connoisseur to break into the wide world of Pale Ale beers.

ImageLike I said, there were 17 other Iowa Microbrews at this event. I wasn’t able to hit them all, but most of the ones I did hit, had pretty good beer. The 1800+ people who showed up at the sold-out event can corroborate my claims.

If you visit any of these breweries, please tell them you saw them here! Drink Safe and Smart so you can enjoy your beer for longer!

Espresso 134 Lisbon, Iowa

Storefront Espresso 134

UPDATE:  Espresso 134 is now closed. 

 

It was a good thing for me that Brighton got out of school at 11:30.  After a quick lunch at home, we headed to the City Park in Lisbon.  A small historic community of around 2500 people, Lisbon has a gem sitting right on Main Street.  It’s called Espresso 134.

ATMOSPHERE:

The renovated 1881 building is more than gorgeous inside.  It’s modern and cozy and … well gorgeous!  Clad with granite countertops, bar, tables, and ledges, comfy leather chairs downstairs, and cozy chairs upstairs, the whole place just reeks of class.  Two chillers under the bar hold local wines and beer.  An odd twist to a traditional coffee shop, but with the idea of wine tastings, beer pairings, art shows, euchre tournaments, and live music, it somehow works.  Beautifully.    I just can’t say how impressed I was with the look of this place.  Each coffee shop I frequent has it’s own unique style, and Espresso 134 is no exception.

Now, from what I understand, this establishment is in the middle of a management change.  The previous owner, Eric Krob, is going to be taking ownership once again since the current owner, Jill Schaefer, is  choosing to spend more time with her 4 boys.  A reasonable option since running this kind of business takes a LOT of time.  So at this time, Just Jill’s Espresso 134 offers up breakfast, lunch and limited dinner offerings, as well as carry out prepared meals.  However, I am not sure how long that will last.   So if this is what you’re interested in, I suggest calling ahead.

DRINKS n STUFF

So how is the coffee?  Pretty good.  Coffee roasts from PT’s Roasting Company out of Topeka, KS (Direct Trade) supplies Espresso 134 with it’s premium roast.  I had a simple (boring) decaf, skim latte.  I say boring because I’m nursing a 2 month old who doesn’t care for caffeine or milk proteins.  So I didn’t get a good representation of what their coffee is REALLY like.  Brighton and I did, however, each have a Raspberry Italian Creme Soda, which was excellent.

We also each had some goodies.  Brighton had two (yes TWO) cake bites.   One chocolate and one lemon.  Which he says were “Good!” complete with a deep dimple smile (which is a positive review equal to 9 stars).  I had a chocolate truffle, which was pretty good too.  The chocolates were made by a local Cedar Rapidian business called Sweetopia Handmade Chocolates.

Also offered are local wines and happy hour specials.  Wine selections  include Cedar Ridge wines, wines for fundraising (UNITE for livestrong, MOVE for National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and INSPIRE for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation) where actual $$ goes to the foundations for the sale of each of these wines.  Pretty cool eh?

EXTRAS:

Also available is catering for office parties/business meetings etc. just call a day ahead.  You can also rent the building for your meetings (and make a fantastic impression!)  WiFi is available, ask for a password.  Or if you need to use a computer, one is available for you on the second floor.  Which, by the way, also has a huge flat screen television, comfy chairs and a beautiful leather couch.   I’m just sayin’.

So where can I find this place?

134 Main Street, Lisbon Iowa

Phone: 319-455-2023

Facebook: just jills espresso 134

email:  jjespresso134@gmail.com

All in all I really liked this place.  Good coffee, great service, out of this world atmosphere.  So if you’re ever in the area, or in Iowa at all, stop by and say hello.  Tell them I sent you!

Al’s Blue Toad

Well, it sure has been a busy year!!!  Building houses, having babies…(ok ONE house and ONE baby…but that sure is enough!) no rest at the Oberbreckling home!  Needless to say, our outings have been limited, but we did manage one really fantastic one recently.  Al’s Blue Toad in historic and rebuilding Czech Village in Cedar Rapids.

Al’s Blue Toad is a Czech homestyle pub style restaurant in the heart of historic Czech Village in the old Zindricks restaurant.  With fabulous traditional Czech recipes as well as just good ol’ rib stickin’ food.    Rebuilt after the flood of 2008, this restaurant shows no sign of slowing down.   With a facebook fan base of over 1000 fans, Al’s Blue Toad is definitely helping the flood recovery in Czech Village stand out and stay afloat (no pun intended).

The first time I ate at the toad was with my bestie from San Diego, Jill, her daughter and mom.  Jill had the Paprika Chicken, her mom  had the Tender Roast Pork Loin (seems to be their specialty – everyone orders it!), and I had the Breaded Pork Tenderloin with fries (an Iowa favorite).  We all tasted each other’s dish and were all delighted.  Even the 4 year old enjoyed the food.  I wasn’t equipped with a camera at the time but made a mental note to bring one next time.

The next time I went with my family and one of the first things I noticed at the Toad was how clean the place was and smelled.   Being a diabetic at the time (gestational diabetes) I had to excuse myself to the restroom several times for tests and shots, which smelled and looked clean.  Even the garbage cans were clean and freshly changed.  Impressive for such a busy bustling place.   Then came the menu.  Which is full of great food at great prices.  I will say, though, not much on the menu for kids.  I ordered the Tender Roast Pork Loin with the yummiest dumplings and my husband, the Czech Burger which is adorned with bavarian kraut and caraway swiss.  Both were fantastic.  So much so that I completely forgot to take photos of our meals until they were almost gone.  So, much to my husband’s chagrin, I chased the waitress around when I saw her bring out one popular appetizer, the homemade breaded mac and cheese.   I again, didn’t have my good camera or even my point-and-shoot but I managed a bad photo with my camera phone.  The others were stolen from the facebook fan page.  🙂

Stop in some time and say hello, and tell them I sent you!  The Toad is located at 86 16th Avenue SW Cedar Rapids Iowa. Their phone number is 319-265-8623 and the hours are Monday through Sunday 11AM to 2 AM and Sunday 11 AM to 10 PM.  Maybe I’ll see you there!!

Have you eaten at the Toad?  Tell me what you think?!

Alger’s Pizza Palace Mount Vernon, Iowa

Located on the Main Street in the Historic College town (Home of Cornell College) of Mount Vernon, (we all know College kids take their pizza very VERY seriously) lies a Royal little pizza place called Pizza Palace.

Hawaiian Thick Crust Pizza

Hawaiian Thick Crust Pizza

Oh yum.  Is all I have to say.  Andrew, Brighton, and I stopped by there on a Thursday evening.  The place was almost empty less a few late comers such as ourselves, but the pizza (we ordered the Hawaiian with a thick crust) was absolutely outstanding.

Made by the owner himself, Rawley Alger, the cheese was perfectly melted and browned, the crust was crispy and full of flavor, the ingredients including pineapple and Canadian bacon, didn’t “wet” the pizza down like Hawaiian pizza can sometimes be.  Instead, it was wonderfully fresh and just about the most perfect pizza I have ever had.    In addition, the price is extremely reasonable, the service is excellent, and the atmosphere is fun and feels very historic and homey.  A large Hawaiian pizza costs the same, maybe a dollar more, than a large Casey’s specialty pizza on sale.  And for the price of about $14, you get local service, great food, and you get to support a locally and family owned (since 1986) business.  Which just makes it taste a little better… 🙂

Alger’s Pizza Palace is located at 106 1st Street West in Mount Vernon Iowa.  Their phone number (for carry out!) is (319) 895-6971.  If you visit, you can pass the time by searching the mural on the wall for the treasure hunt items listed in the middle on the list. Extra points if you can find the mice (of which only 3 people know the locations of…)

If any coupons are available, you can find them here.

Find out more about Mount Vernon here.

Find out more about Mount Vernon Commerce here.

Dittos Stanwood, Iowa

Ditto’s is one of those wonderful restaurants that you find in almost every small town.  Especially in Iowa. You can order a skillet breakfast any time of the day, have a porkchop home style lunch complete with mashed potatoes, and supper of liver and onions with a hand dipped milk shake and finish off with a huge slice of homemade pies (if you’re lucky enough to get one before they’re gone.)

Brighton and I and occasionally Andrew, can be found on a lazy Sunday morning having breakfast.  We occasionally go there for lunch or dinner and scoop up their huge nummy tenderloin.

Service is usually pretty good, they’re often busy and so it may take a while to get your first cup of coffee, but besides that, you won’t wait long.  The owner can often be found in the kitchen in the morning and early afternoons.  Speaking of coffee, they serve Farmers Brothers coffee, which is usually served at these kinds of little diners.

Dittos is located on Highway 30 on your way out of Stanwood or on your way into Stanwood – depending on which way you’re coming – or going.  Stanwood is on the north side of Hwy 30.  You can’t really miss it.   And you shouldn’t.

Tabor Home Wines, Baldwin Iowa

Snuggled in between the rolling hills of Jackson County lies a century farm and acres of grape vines at a

family owned winery called Tabor Home.  I’m no stranger to Tabor Home.  I met them years ago at the farmer’s market in Cedar Rapids, fell in love with their wines, and have been a “fan” ever since.  My husband and I ordered 2 cases of wine for our wedding, and the rest is history.

The road to Tabor Home takes you through the rolling hills deep in the heart of Grant Wood Country.  Which makes the trip not only about the destination but also the journey.  Through the summer, they have Music in the Vineyard beginning in June every other week until the end of September.  But it doesn’t end there, they also have other activities such as the Wine Trail in April and November, Nouveau Wine Festival and the Holiday Open House in November.  You can log onto their website to get details.

Among the many activities, they also carry a variety of local foods including cheese and chocolate made with Tabor’s own Raspberry wine (my personal favorite) and offer several recipes and lists of foods to pair with their wonderful wines, also available at their website.  Tabor grows all their red wine grapes and most of their whites.  They do purchase some from other growers around the area, but also from the Mississippi Valley.  Last year, they harvested 18 tons of grapes from their own vineyards and expect that many again this year.

And the Pièce de résistance, their selection of wonderful wines ranging in price from $9.75 to $18.95 and flavors ranging from the grapiest grape to the best of red.  (sorry for THAT description Paul).  The winery is open for tasting Monday through Saturday 10-6 and Sunday 12-6.  You can call ahead and ask for tours or just stop in and try some wines.  Tell Dr. Tabor that I sent you 🙂

VIsit their website Here

Corridor Coffee North Liberty, Iowa

August 26, 2008

Corridor Coffee is my North Liberty Haunt.  Like every small coffee shop (though I really wouldn’t call Corridor Coffee small…) they have their own unique taste to their drinks.  I personally really enjoy their sugar free caramel latte.  They have several flavors of syrup, and when I was pregnant (and had gestational diabetes), it was a huge relief to be able to get drinks with syrups made with splenda rather than sweet and low or equal.  They truly leave nothing out.  They also make fantastic summer drinks like mixed berry, mango, or strawberry smoothies.  Frozen Mocha or Frozen Vanilla Latte or even items without coffee.  There’s tons of options so whatever your mood, they’ve got it.

They also employ a 10 drink get one free policy ($2.50 and under), which is nice.  It’s their way of saying thank you.  You can often see the owners working hard behind the counter who are quick to say hello and

Corridor Coffee Drive Through

quickly remember who you are and what you drink if you don’t change it up too much.  If you have some work to do, bring your laptop.  If you want to meet for a book club, come on in.  If you just need to kill some time, pull up a chair and open a good book and have yourself some coffee and a muffin.

Not to forget the uber convenient drive through.  I can’t count how many times I’ve taken advantage of this convenient feature in the winter time, when I have my son, or my dog, or am too gross and dirty to get out of my car.

If you’re in North Liberty, stop in and grab a drink, tell them I sent you!

You can see several photos on my flickr site Simply.Silly

Iguanas Grill North Liberty, Iowa

August 26, 2008

Iguanas Grill Buffet

Iguana's Grill Buffet

Every week for the past two or so years, (maybe 3) my coworkers Dr. Wayne, Jennifer, and I have gone to Iguanas almost every week for lunch. Occasionally we change it up, but Iguana’s we never get sick of. Typically, we have ordered the Chicken Chimichanga but have since started ordering the buffet, speedy gonzales, lunch fajitas, and quesadillas. We haven’t been disappointed in any of these items. The service is generally quick, friendly, and courteous. They start by getting you a basket of warm tortilla chips and salsa. Eventually, they’ll get your order and within 15 minutes you usually have your lunch.

The prices are reasonable and the food is great. They just started offering the buffet this year, and have worked out all the kinks so now it’s usually great. With items on the buffet such as chimichangas, quesadillas (beef and chicken), burritos, fruit, salad, chips, rice, beans, refried beans, tortillas to make your own burrito or taco. Those are the basics, some items may vary.

If you’re in North Liberty, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.